Friday, August 13, 2010

Capital Punishment

The Washington Post reports on death row prisoners dying of natural causes as their death sentences keep getting appealed; as too often in the discussion around capital punishment, we forget the stories of the people who have lost a family member to murder, waiting endlessly for resolution.

This post from the Crime & Punishment blog reports on an unusual gathering of those folks.

An excerpt.

“Yesterday afternoon, the Iannella Council Chambers on the fifth floor of City Hall featured a rather unique event -- a three hour session devoted to testimony from a long line of Boston residents who have suffered the loss of a family member to murder.

“The good news is that the room was packed. The crowd of people interested in what survivors of homicide had to say spilled over into the lobby where the television broadcast of the hearing was available.

“The bad news was also that the room was packed. There was, unfortunately, a seemingly endless pool of ordinary folks -- overwhelmingly people of color from the poorest sections of the city -- whose lives took an extraordinary turn for the worse when their son or daughter, cousin or other kin became a part the city’s murder statistics.

“The most important aspect of the day was the chance to associate names and stories with the otherwise impersonal homicide figures -- to humanize those who have died from senseless episodes of violence in homes, schools or on the street. The speakers, many of whom struggled to hold back their tears, were eminently successful in reminding City Counselor Ayanna Pressley who convened the hearing, several of her colleagues, and countless others in the room or watching on TV of the pain endured by families of murder victims. Much too often, their plight gets lost in the inordinate attention typically given to questions about who committed the crime and for what reason. Even worse, our society has an obsessive fascination with murderers whose undeserved celebrity only exists because someone else -- usually someone quite obscure -- was killed.

“Speaker after speaker gave heartfelt statements reflecting a blend of sorrow and frustration, sadness and anger. Not only did they describe the emptiness they felt after losing a loved one without even the chance to say goodbye, but they took advantage of the occasion to criticize certain officials who kept them in the dark about what had happened and about the state of the investigation.”